If you are like me, you may have spent hours at some point thinking about how to have the whole “stranger danger” discussion with your kiddo. And again, like me, you may be unsure of how to go about that and what exactly your child may or may not understand.
For the most part, avoid using stranger danger. Why? Stranger danger is a difficult concept for children to understand. As adults, we talk to strangers often. Your children look up to you as an example, even if they don’t know why you are talking to a stranger. You would have to explain the what makes them dangerous, but you also cannot judge a book by its cover either. Most dangerous people are friendly and are trying to be your child’s friend. Or they may already be familiar with your child. It’s all so complicated. Try to rephrase individuals as unsafe rather than using stranger danger. Additionally, teaching children about trusting their instincts is a must.
Changing the vocabulary and focusing on a “safe person” should help your child identify strangers more easily. They need to learn that a safe stranger is someone who would be helpful, not harmful. For example, if you are in public and your child is separated from you, having your child approach another mother with children would be better than asking a man who is shopping alone. If in the grocery store, asking an employee for help is better than asking a young couple. At the park, finding a police officer is better than asking teenagers for help. It is imperative for them to understand who safe people for kids are.
Teach your child that their bodies are their own and not anyone else’s. NO ONE has permission to touch their bodies, ever. If your child has reservations at any time about being near someone, do not force them to have contact. Forcing any physical touch at any time goes against teaching your child that their bodies belong to them. If your child refuses to hug or sit near someone, even if it’s grandma, do not force it. They may be experiencing feelings that are causing them to be uncomfortable with that person.
Additionally, it is genuinely beneficial that you teach your child the proper terminology for their body parts. I know that when it comes to labeling genitals, a lot of us get uncomfortable. One out of every five girls and one out of every ten boys experience a sexual assault before the age of 18. If this happens to your child, you want them to identify every single body part, including their genitals correctly. In cases involving sexual assault, 90% of the time it is done by someone very close to your child, someone he/she knows and trusts. No matter who this person is, your child in no way needs to hug or allow them to enter their personal space against their will.
Have the “what if” conversation with them often. What if you are at the park and a grown-up asks you to help them find their puppy? What if your friend’s brother or sister asks you to do something that makes you feel uncomfortable and strange? Listen to their answers. If they answer incorrectly or incomplete, that’s fine, just help them out. Focus on what TO DO rather than what they shouldn’t do. “To do” shifts the focus from fear to being proactive. Wouldn’t we all rather have a child that leans towards being a go-getter rather than a wallflower? Focusing on actions is far better than having a fear-based conversation.
If your child happens to come to you with an incident that made national headlines, use this as a teachable moment. Discuss what that child did right or what could they have done differently. Keeping this dialogue open continues to fortify the knowledge you’re giving them, thus ensuring that they will be less likely to become one of those statistics.
Once your little one has informed you of an incident, your instinct may be to panic. Do not do this. Instead, lavish your child in praise for doing the right thing. If you have a spastic moment, it may have adverse effects. Your child may think twice about reporting to you in the future. Follow this up with filing a report regarding the incident as soon as possible.
Statistics show that teaching your child about safety and being aware of their surroundings will empower them and give them confidence. Empowerment and confidence are what they need to get out of situations that could end badly.
Have you discussed safe people with your children? If so, how did you go about it? Please let us know in the comment section.